UCP eyes AISH, but blinks

Albertans struggling with poverty got alarming news on Friday with reports that the UCP were planning cuts to the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program, but after a weekend of public backlash--and the release of some startling poll numbers--Kenney blinked.

Had the UCP moved forward, this would be the second time since their election that Kenney’s party would have slashed the program, which provides benefits to Albertans who are medically unable to work. Last November the UCP government ‘de-indexed’ AISH, which means they cancelled planned increases that would have kept the benefits in pace with inflation.

De-indexing AISH was estimated to reduce the amount paid out in these benefits by about $10 million a year.

The maximum AISH living allowance last year was a mere $1,685 a month: AISH recipients were already living at barely halfway to the poverty line. And these benefits have been painfully low for quite some time. Even the former NDP government added little to AISH aside from indexing it to inflation.

AISH is brutally low and has been far, far too low for a very long time. To cut it even further would be beyond cruel.

Rapid and intense outcry over the weekend--online, in the letters sections of newspapers, and to MLA’s voicemails--had a hand in keeping this second round of cuts at bay. But it’s likely that a look at the latest polling numbers gave the UCP reason to pull back, too.

Party caucuses have their own polling data so we can’t be sure exactly what numbers Jason Kenney is looking at. But the most recent publicly-available poll from Angus Reid estimates a dramatic shift in Albertans’ opinions. The poll suggests that the UCP have suffered a massive drop in popularity over the summer, dragging them down to the point where they’d be neck-and-neck with the NDP in both votes and seats.

I’m not usually someone with a great amount of confidence in pollsters, but perhaps this estimate is true. If the rapid retreat on AISH cuts is any indication, Jason Kenney and the UCP are certainly worried about something.


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